• Anjou Outlier: Pierre Menard

    Anjou Outlier: Pierre Menard

    Pierre Menard reaches cult status in Europe for his lieu-dit (single-vineyard) Chenin Blancs. Still, I'm choosing to begin this producer introduction with a different wine, the Laïka Sauvignon Blanc. Simply put, Chenin gets the prime slopes in Anjou, where schist dominates, and the flatlands with boring soils may see some Sauvignon Blanc. However, Menard discovered one of the first Sauvignon Blanc parcels in this region, the tiny 1957-planted Clos de la Roche, located atop a slope in Faye d'Anjou.

    Before tasting Laïka, you'd be well served to expel any notion of what this variety's personality is about to deliver. "Typical" grapefruit and lime fade into the background, much like earth did when the first living creature, the dog Laïka, was rocketed into space in 1957 (hence, the name). Those flavors are replaced by saffron butter, a kaleidoscope of yellow fruits, and a mineral underpinning that only the schist-laden slopes of Anjou convey. A Parisian bistro summer sipper, this is not.

    The fermentation and aging regimen is as progressive as Menard's desire to work with this Anjou outcast grape variety. Older barrels, sandstone amphora, and tank are the vessels that combine to give us Laïka. Only a few cases enter the U.S. each year, and I'm thrilled to offer a 3-vintage vertical today. Also, do not miss his stellar Chenin Blancs below, in equally small quantities.

    We don't focus on many sweet/dessert wines outside of German Riesling, but Menard's "Cosmos" Coteaux du Layon (500ml bottles) blew us away last month, and it's the perfect pairing for cheese or dessert.

    Shop Pierre Menard

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Anjou's Salted Cotton Candy: Thibaud Boudignon Rosé

    Anjou's Salted Cotton Candy: Thibaud Boudignon Rosé

    If Thibaud Boudignon's Chenin Blancs are the lightning of Anjou, then his rosé brings the thunder. Here lies a prime example of how Cabernet Franc-based rosé can still be true to the variety, with crunchy, dark fruit notes, electric tones, and minerality often elusive in these parts (Direct pressing still keeps this rosé ultra pale, though). The unusual melding of a cotton candy element with a healthy dose of sea salt makes this one of the most irresistible pinks.

    A June 2016 visit to Boudignon's estate on the outskirts of Savennières left a lasting impression. He's shaking things up in Central Loire, shifting the conversation on everything from aging vessels to picking dates and fermentation philosophy. In short, Boudignon's Chenins re-define Anjou, and his rosé carries that same hallmark of verve. Provence usually gets the spotlight during rosé season, but the Loire delivers just as much refreshment!

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • New Dawn in Anjou: 2020 Clos des Plantes

    New Dawn in Anjou: 2020 Clos des Plantes

    Loire Chenin produced in the most natural method is something I'm always excited to taste. The bar for excellence is high, as only the most skilled viticulture can turn out these complex and high-wire achievements. That's why my interest was piqued when Chateau de Bonnezeaux's importer announced a new name in its portfolio.

    Olivier Lejeune, like Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie of Bonnezeaux, worked alongside the legendary Mark Angeli at Ferme de la Sansonniere, where Lejeune learned the skills to produce Anjou wines with minimal intervention. Lejeune's two cuvées offer terrific value: Both explode on the palate with soft texture and open-knit fruit met with a mineral grip and tingling finish that saturate the palate.

    The Chenin Blanc shows ripe orchard fruits and honeysuckle cut with lemon citrus notes that switch this broad attack of ripeness into a mineral delivery system masterpiece. The natural element is abundantly clear with its cardamom spices fully enveloped under a strict spine of chalk and schist-derived minerality.

    This importer's portfolio also includes names like Roumier, Roulot, and D'Angerville, and it's exciting to see the juxtaposition of more natural-minded producers coming to the forefront. If there's one new name to familiarize yourself with after the Bonnezeaux wines have sold out, it would be Lejeune's lineup.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Anjou's Unicorn Disciple: Château de Bonnezeaux Chenin Blanc

    Anjou's Unicorn Disciple: Château de Bonnezeaux Chenin Blanc

    There's no place I've visited that carries the same undercurrent of excitement like Anjou. The Loire Valley region has long been associated with sweet wines, but today there's a group of winemakers who are turning that playbook upside down. They focus on dry wines, using meticulous organic viticulture and minimal sulphur as the foundation for change in this region of complicated identity.

    Of this band of vignerons, 
    Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie of Château de Bonnezeaux is the brand new arrival to the US that I've been waiting to write about. Her first and only release from a two-hectare parcel of old Chenin Blanc vines epitomizes the magic capable in Anjou.

    Today I'm very happy to offer the resurrection of the Château de Bonnezeaux, the 2016 La Montagne Cuvée Salve Regina at $45 per bottle, and down to $42.25 on 4-Packs. We are one of only two listings in the entire US for this inaugural release.

    At first pour, Cuvée Salve Regina's very pale yellow hue initially got me engaged. It's often from this area I'll find more darker peach and apricot notes that totally miss the mark with their heavier handed Chenin expression. It's the fresh white pear, honeysuckle, and meyer lemon all woven together here with a mineral spring finish that was just irresistible. The concentration of bright acidity and crushed rock notes that linger on the palate stands in stark contrast to anything else I've come across. And the distinctive cardamom note on the nose and the palate only adds to the intrigue here.

    Château de Bonnezeaux's first release in over thirty years comes from two parcels of Chenin Blanc vines blended together: a 70-yr-old vineyard in Bonnezeaux and a 40-yr-old vineyard in the Coteaux du Layon. Both appellations have long stood as where sweet Chenin Blanc reaches its apogee, but the archaic French laws have kept vignerons from pushing the envelope to see what else was capable here. Today, dry wines from these two regions are often required to be labeled with the humble Vin de France appellation you see pictured below.

    The names Mark Angeli, Stephane Bernaudeau, and Richard Leroy should be addressed. This trio of mentors has been a pivotal force in grooming the new generation in Anjou. It was working under these producers that Guyonne found her voice for Château de Bonnezeaux, and in her wine the spirit of these three names is obvious. Minimal sulphur is a common thread for all, and the resulting wilder elements of spices and aromas is intrinsically tied to each of the domaine's spellbinding wines.

    I thought it would be fun to also put together a special mixed 6-Pack of my favorite Anjou natural wine producers. The six have worked together, informing and challenging each other to show a side of Chenin Blanc that has never been displayed here before. These wines are each produced in minuscule quantities, and many are the only listings in the US today.

    To order please reply directly to this email.

    2016 Château de Bonnezeaux La Montagne Cuvée Salve Regina
    $45 per bottle.

    Special E-mail 4-Pack Pricing: $169 ($42.25/bottle)

    *Anjou Whisper 6-Pack Pricing: $368 (Regularly $396)
    2014 Ferme de la Sansonniere (Mark Angeli) Anjou Les Fouchardes (Monopole) 
    2014 Stephane Bernaudeau Les Onglés VDF 
    2016 Château de Bonnezeaux La Montagne Cuvée Salve Regina
    2016 Benoit Courault Anjou Gilbourg 
    2014 Vins Hodgson (Mai et Kenji) Les Aussigouins VDF
    2014 Richard Leroy Anjou Rouliers 
    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Two Ends of the Chenin Blanc Spectrum

    Two Ends of the Chenin Blanc Spectrum

    The diversity within the range of styles of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is something that fascinates us to no end. On a recent trip we visited two particular producers who accentuate this truth in show stopping fashion. Today we focus on two very different sides to the Chenin Blanc coin.

    It is only 25 miles that separate Saumur from Anjou, but the styles of Chenin Blanc seem worlds apart. Terroir plays a large role, but we also found that winemaking philosophy and technique is a pivotal element in what distinguishing these stunning wines.

    Arnaud Lambert has resurrected the Chateau de Brézé of Saumur, a domaine praised for their Chenin Blanc wines as far back as the 15th century where they were served at royal courts throughout Europe. Regularly the Chateau would exchange their wines with those of the revered Château d'Yquem of Bordeaux. And today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    As times passed and industrialism gave way to quick fixes in the vineyards (herbicides, pesticides) to ensure high yields and minimize the need for hand work the Chateau de Brézé lost something. Recruited in 2009, Lambert has spent the last seven years finding the magic by going back to the roots. Lambert immediately converted to organic farming, drastically reduced yields, and has started to incorporate biodynamic principals. 

    Saumur's high concentration of tuffeau limestone, and its active calcium content, has long delivered wines of striking purity and elegance. Winemaking styles here lead most producers to block malolactic fermentation, which help Chenin Blanc preserve it's bright, linear, and more crystalline characteristics. The top whites here see some new French oak, but the flavor is nearly imperceptible, as fruit from these sites absorbs any wood quality that may otherwise stand out. While most wines in the appellation showcase fresh orchard fruit notes, those of Chateau Brézé have a deep layered texture to them with an impressive array of tertiary qualities. The poached pear and quince flavors are met with brown spices, orange zest, and chalky minerality.

    Lambert would be the first to tell you that it was not an overnight change that has made these wines what they are today. It was a few years of intense vineyard management that has finally brought quality up to such a high level. 2012 marked a defining moment for the domaine, as their top two wines offered today resemble the glory of what once graced the tables of kings and queens throughout the continent.

    2012 Chateau de Brézé Saumur Clos de la Rue $53.95
    The top wine of the domaine. From the warmest vineyard on the hill of Brézé, and protected from the gusts of wind that regularly zip throughout vine rows. Sandy limestone at the top of the hill, with clay underneath gives richness, power, and deep texture.

    If Chateau de Brézé is a reflection of the grand achievements of centuries past in the Loire, then Kenji and Mai Hodgson serve as stark reminders of what thrilling heights await us as we look toward the future. The couple, originally from British Columbia, have an adventurous spirit that embodies what's so exciting about today's Loire Valley.

    They produce wines under the Vin de France (VDF) designation which allow them to essentially ignore the archaic requirements set by local appellation laws, like those of Anjou. While the VDF designation was once commonly thought of as the lowest generic label, today it is used by hundreds who find its flexibility a blessing that allows them to craft the wines of their dreams. And believe me, with the 2014 Les Aussigouins Kenji and Mai landed on cloud nine.

    In Vancouver it proved nearly impossible for the Japanese-Canadians to rely on organically farmed sources of grapes, and land was too expensive to buy outright. They took a giant leap and moved to the Loire without a grasp of French, but what they lacked in language they made up for in sheer determination. After four years they finally made their mark thanks in large part to the generosity and mentorship of iconic producers in the region like Richard Leroy and Mark Angeli.

    2014 Vins Hodgson Les Aussignouins VDF $43.95
    Les Aussignouins is sourced from vines in the famed Montbenault vineyard that Richard Leroy has drawn a spotlight to over the last few years. While Leroy's wines are doled out in 6 bottle allocations per year (if you're lucky!), Hodgson's version just landed this month in the US for the first time ever, and while quantities are small, we took a rather large slice.

    Specifically, the Montbenault vineyard is located within Coteaux du Layon Faye de Anjou. The Chenin Blanc here is grown on volcanic rhuloite rock and differs dramatically from the limestone-dominant Saumur vineyards. The winemaking decisions here are quite different, as well. Malolactic fermentation is uninterrupted, zero sulphur is used, and the wines age for a rather short period of time in neutral oak barrels, before going into tank and then bottle.

    Les Aussignouins has a broad texture, giving rich golden orchard fruits, and a distinct honeyed quality. What impressed so much at our visit was how perfectly balanced this wine was. It had the purity and laser-like focus of the Saumur wines, but with wild exotic fruit notes and concentrated savory spices on the ultra-long finish. I must have revisited this wine three more times when I was traveling in France and each time was more blown away. Of all the wines of Vins Hodgson this is the one we knew we had to go deep on.

    Posted by Max Kogod